Everybody with even a passing familiarity with the current news either on free-to-air television, radio or newspapers will have realised that former deputy leader of the parliamentary National Party, Bridget McKenzie, has resigned, not for rorting the Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program (CSIG), but for not declaring her membership of the Wangaratta Clay Target Club which she obtained prior to granting the club some $36,0001.
This program was referred to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) and they found that:
“The design of the program was deficient in a number of important areas. A positive aspect was that the program guidelines were well structured and included clear assessment criteria with transparent weightings. A significant shortcoming was that, while the program guidelines identified that the Minister for Sport would approve CSIG funding, there are no records evidencing that the Minister was advised of the legal basis on which the Minister could undertake an approval role, and it is not evident to the ANAO what the legal authority was.”2
It was also noted that:
“Sport Australia’s assessment of applications was largely in accordance with the published program guidelines. Sport Australia assessed each application for eligibility and against the three merit criteria to arrive at an overall assessment score. Scores against the three merit criteria were used to rank the applications, but Sport Australia did so within the three funding streams, which was not consistent with the program guidelines.”2
In addition, ANAO noted:
“In parallel, the Minister’s Office had commenced its own assessment process to identify which applications should be awarded funding. The Minister’s Office drew upon considerations other than those identified in the program guidelines, such as the location of projects, and also applied considerations that were inconsistent with the published guidelines. It was this assessment process that predominantly informed the Minister’s funding decisions, rather than Sport Australia’s process. This resulted in the assessment advice to the Minister being inconsistent with the approved program guidelines.”2
In short, this means that the Sport Australia program guidelines were well structured, and that their assessment was in accordance with the guidelines, but that McKenzie’s office assessment process was inconsistent with the program guidelines.
In an effort to lay the blame squarely at the feet of McKenzie and absolve himself or his office of any blame for the rorting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison asked the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Philip Gaetjens, to examine whether McKenzie had breached ministerial standards. It is worth looking into Gaetjens history to work out what this was about. Gaetjens was appointed as Secretary of the department in September 2019. Prior to this, he held many posts in the Commonwealth Public Service as well as the South Australian Public Service and New South Wales Public Service. However, between 1997 and 2007 he was chief of staff to then Howard Liberal government Treasurer Peter Costello, and between 2015 and 2018 was chief of staff for then Treasurer Scott Morrison3. It was in late 2018 that the CSIG was set up and it was to be administered by the Australian Sports Commission (Sport Australia). However, then sports minister Bridget McKenzie made it clear that she, personally, would be the decision-maker. The Department of Health had advised that legal advice would be needed to clarify whether this was possible. That advice was never sought nor obtained, so McKenzie had no legal ability to decide any grants4. When the CSIG was set up in the budget of 2018-2019, Morrison was Treasurer and Gaetjens was his chief of staff.
A leak from the government to journalist Andrew Probyn of a spreadsheet listing all the first round applications for CSIG funding showed that each of them (some 223) had been colour-coded according to the electorate in which the relevant sporting clubs were located, not just which electorate they were in, but whether that was a marginal electorate or an electorate being targeted by the coalition as winnable in the 2019 election4.
According to Morrison, Gaetjens’ report found that the rorting identified by the ANAO didn’t happen, and it was simply the Wangaratta conflict of interest which transgressed ‘ministerial standards’. Of course, Morrison has refused to release the Gaetjens report, just like he has refused to release Barnaby Joyce’s ‘drought reports’, leading to speculation that neither actually exist5. Indeed, as noted above, it seems more likely that Morrison’s instructions to Gaetjens were not so much to investigate McKenzie’s actions, but to come up with a tactic to restrict the damage to McKenzie, and prevent the manure from the fan hitting Morrison. According to Morrison, the best tactic Gaetjens could come up with was simple denial.
This ‘sports rorts’ pork barrelling is just the tip of the corruption iceberg. Two years ago, I wrote an article on this blog which showed how corruption was increasing in Australia, and how it was reflected in the Corruption Perceptions Index put out by Transparency International and how Australia was sinking down the rankings, becoming more and more corrupt6. Nothing has changed.